Bring the sun-baked flavors of the Middle East to your kitchen with our lightened versions of traditional dishes.
September 07, 2014
1 of 13Photo: Oxmoor House
The Flavors of the Middle East
Wander through any Middle Eastern bazaar, and piney caraway, gingery cardamom, and citrusy coriander will engulf your senses. These recipes incorporate fresh ingredients and clever calorie cuts to create lighter versions of some of the region's most popular dishes.
Iran takes rice to new heights. For chelo, the rice is parboiled, and then fried in a pan, covered with a cloth, and steamed with butter and salt, creating a crispy, golden crust on the bottom. We cut back on the butter and salt, but the rice still forms a good crust, known as tah dig. Use a nonstick pan here so you can invert the whole pan of rice and show the golden brown crust.
Falafel-Stuffed Eggplant with Tahini Sauce and Tomato Relish
A sandwich of chickpea fritters in pita bread, falafel ranks amont the world's most popular Middle Eastern foods. Here's a re-imagining of the same elements—seasoned mashed chickpeas, tahini sauce, and tomato relish—stuffed into roasted eggplant instead of pita pockets. It makes a satisfying vegetarian main dish.
Probably the most famous Middle Eastern sweet pastry, baklava layers phyllo dough with pistachios, walnuts, or almonds, and sugar syrup or honey. In this version, chocolate-hazelnut spread enrobes four different kinds of chopped nuts—hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, and almonds. Cinnamon-scented honey syrup crowns the top.
A salad of parsley, bulgur, and tomato, tabbouleh is traditionally served as part of mezze, the Middle East's version of tapas. Here, sautéed chicken thighs and a creamy sesame sauce turn the bulgur salad into a main dish. This healthy meal-in-a-bowl comes from Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything.
In Lebanon, some cooks replace the lemon juice in this classic eggplant dip with pomegranate molasses for a touch of sweetness. Either way, smokiness is essential to the dish. If you can broil or grill the eggplant until the skin blackens all over, you'll get a more authentic flavor.
Bulgur forms the basis of many Middle Eastern salads. This Turkish one, from cultural anthropologist Claudia Roden, requires no cooking and fewer than 10 minutes of hands-on time. The bulgur softens as it absorbs the juice of the fresh tomatoes.
Dukkah is an incredibly versatile mix of nuts, seeds, and spices that's perfect for flavoring pita bread and cut vegetables that have been dipped in olive oil. Dip the vegetables or bread in the oil, and then the dukkah. You can also use dukkah to season grilled or roasted meat, fish, and vegetables.
8 of 13Photo: Oxmoor House
Running a marathon? Here's your carbo-load: a classic Egyptian street food of rice, pasta, and lentils topped with spicy-sweet tomato sauce and deeply savory caramelized onions. The recipe comes courtesy of Anissa Helou, native Lebanese food writer and author of Mediterranean Street Food.
Whole lemons preserved in a salty brine are a flavor powerhouse. Look for preserved lemons at specialty stores, or order online from rakuten.com. They work wonders in dishes that can use a tangy, salty punch.